“We trust that the moon shall guide us”

I try to allow my life to be governed less by time – a human construct crafted to bring order to the chaos of life as it continues to slip by – than by the cycles of the moon. This lunar cycle seems to be particularly critical in a moment of global healing. For those that have not yet discovered the power of the moon, just wait. It will find you soon enough.

Lunar energies are consistently present in the unfolding of events, of ideas, of attitudes, and of shifts from one phase of any given chapter in life to the next. I have been blessed to spend some of the most powerful full moons on Bulago Island, a paradise in the heart of Uganda’s claim to Lake Victoria. Today marks not only a full moon, but a powerful SuperMoon, in the sign of Taurus – the sign of my birth – on the 14th, a number that has brought magic and wonder into my life since it discovered me in my teenage years.

I treated myself to a powerful meditation while watching the rising moon reflect upon Lake Victoria, and in turn reflected on my own light and how it has felt virtually muted for the past week. The light of the moon comforted me in that moment, and I was reminded not only of the power of one’s inner light to bring beauty to the world, but of the cyclical nature of the life we live in. Just as the last full moon ushered in an explosion of inspiration and clarity, this full moon has been marred by what I believe to be a colossal step backward for humankind and particularly for those in my home country. But just eight years before that, I believe America took a giant leap forward. Eight years before that, backward, and on and on. And there have been countless cycles of forward and backward movement in between.

These cycles continue whether we like them to or not, but each shift, whether positive or negative, allows opportunities for deeper reflection. And for that, I try to be grateful.

I’m still trying to make sense of this whole mess, and I am trying to make sense of what this lunar cycle means to me. An avid follower of Mystic Mamma, I found comfort in the astral insights for this SuperMoon in my birth sign, reminding us to reconnect with our own set of values and what matters to us, to not dwell in the past or fear the future, but to celebrate this holy moment of which we are all a part. This moon also reminds us to re-ground in Mother Earth, and opportunity regularly afforded to me in this pocket of the world, the birthplace of humankind and constant reminder of the beauty and resilience of humanity in the face of adversity. I am blessed for this island paradise and my regular access to its unfathomable energy. I am blessed for the love I have found here, the love I have shared.

To be honest, I have no idea what is about to happen. I have no idea how to pull myself out of this anger, this fear, this feeling that borders on hate…

And here, as I write this with my music shuffling through on random, on comes Nahko’s Manifesto, here to remind me of words I believe we could all use right now:

Well this is real talk.
This is non-stop.
It is looped now tongue and mind.
Played off the sidewalk, straight to your boombox.
How it travels from ear to memory.
Well this is medicine.
There’s a message within,
and each will find it in their own time.

Well this is music.
This is how I use it.
It makes you move and move with movement.
This is how I focus, knowing it’s not hopeless;
but it sure starts with me and ends on a whole note.
Musical medicine, this is my healing,
for past and present future things to come.

I see people stressin’,
over space and possessions.
Out of fear and a need for visual aids of our abundance.
Give me examples, or something tangible;
something I can get my hands on and find real meaning.
Where is the medicine?
Well I’ve been searching,
and I suppose each will find their own kind.

Well everything’s at stake.
It makes it hard to concentrate.
And there are men who see a war and see a paycheck.
Such different programming, to live so fearfully.
Terror this and terror that, terrible reality.
There is no medicine on the television,
so turn it off and turn yourself around.

And let’s just face it.
The world’s fuckin’ racist
Even the most peaceful of us gets caught in the trend.
To live cohesively is almost a fantasy,
and we ought to know it starts with humbling our egos.
What is the medicine?
For cultural woundin’,
has it’s moments, has it’s melodies, has it’s time.

Well I was listening to the outgoing seasons.
About climate change and some of the reasons.
When the sky opened, like I been hopin’;
and there came horses by the thousands
And there was thunder on their tongues.
And lightning on their minds.
And they were singing this old melody from some other time:

They sang don’t waste your hate.
Rather, gather and create.
Be of service.
Be a sensible person.
Use your words and don’t be nervous.
You can do this, you’ve got purpose.
Find your medicine and use it.”

Voting the Anger Out

I’ve just been advised by a nice little piece in Huffington Post that I should let my anger out by 1) voting (check, thanks to the U.S. Embassy in Kampala) and 2) writing it out. Writing tends to be my standard release, but after a highly emotional past week and a morning filled with a number of near-breakdowns, I realize I have not yet allowed myself to vent my seething anger and crippling frustration about the current American presidential election. A survey by the American Psychological Association found that a majority of Americans are feeling high levels of stress as a result of this election cycle (duh), and since I have recently been writing more about ways in which others can cope with negative emotions, I guess I will heed my own advice. Now, with the soundtrack for Before the Flood pulsing in my ears (“we will all be judged by what we leave behind“), here we go.

Today, November 8th, winding up an unprecedented turnout for early voting in the United States, those Americans who have not yet cast their vote will head to the polls, and vote to either 1) make h(er)story by electing the first (fucking finally) female President of the United States of America, an incredibly qualified candidate who has dedicated her life to public service and put up with our endless barrage of ungrateful shit along the way, one who will continue to represent many of the darker sides of the American political system, but one who will at the very least maintain a status quo that our beloved President Barack Obama has fought tirelessly for over the past 8 years, and at the very best will lead America into a new age where unity, intelligent bipartisan policy, and basic respect for the millions of people across our great country who continue to suffer at the hands of ignorance and oppression, where girls can see the limitless possibilities of their dreams manifested in reality, and where we can continue to believe that we as a people are moving forward, not backward.

Or…

2) prove to the entire fucking planet that we really ARE that stupid, that afraid, that malicious, that racist, that sexist, that childish, that stubborn, that ungrateful, that selfish, that oblivious to the damage that can and will be inflicted on both domestic and foreign policy under the rule of a sociopathic reality T.V. star with absolutely no qualifications or competence to lead an adult campaign let alone the most powerful country on Earth.

He poses the question: “Do you want America to be ruled by the corrupt political class, or do you want America to be ruled again by the people?” To which his flock cries, “Lock her up!” (mob justice) and “She’s a witch!” (mob justice, sexism and insanity). There we have it: the presumed underlying ethos behind Trump’s support and the division we have trudged through in this election cycle. The problem is, in many ways, Hillary represents (to many) the untrustworthy, conniving nature of American politics, and Trump is seen as a solution. The main problem is, that solution, and those who support it, is dripping with vile racist and sexist ideology that permeates America in ways that many have refused to acknowledge. We keep scratching our heads and wondering, “How did we get here?” and “Can this really be happening?”

Well, acknowledge it. This ideology is alive and well in America, maybe even stronger than it was before 2016. It’s very, very real. It is a rabid attack dog, foaming at the mouth, eyes locked on its target, and it’s chain has officially snapped. America’s ignorance is out for blood.

My purpose in life is two-fold: I am here to connect with people and learn as much as I possibly can about this life and our place in it, and I am here to make this life better for my future daughters (and sons) to live in. In the event that Hillary, for whatever reason, does not win tomorrow, then it is very possible that I will be bringing my first child into a world where Trump is President of the United States (assuming a worst-case scenario of a 2-term presidency, of course). I am not alone in this fear.

I recently learned that members of my own family support Trump, and have already cast their vote. This does not surprise me. I come from a poor, white upbringing in a generally ‘Red’ part of California, where many Americans are jaded by political decisions that continue to neglect the lower-middle class in favor of big business and political elites. To many of these individuals, Trump represents the change and progress America needs to strengthen the white middle class who would otherwise be further disenfranchised should minorities suddenly begin to earn equal opportunities to the white majority. It’s racist, it’s ill-informed, but it’s their vote. It certainly cast a darker cloud upon this election season for me personally, but I took comfort in the votes cast by those who raised me – from my grandmother, to my sisters, to my mother (in my mind, my vote was for her, because due to voter ID laws, an expired license crawling through the DMV systems, and confusing processes that bar millions from voting every year, she was unable to cast her vote. Don’t worry mom, I got you).

Then just this week, I learned that my father – Texas born, long-time California resident – spent his weekend canvassing for Trump in the state in which he currently lives. Which state is that? Florida.

We are all entitled to our opinion. We are all entitled to our vote. As Louis C.K. says, “If you vote for Hillary you’re an adult, if you vote for Trump you’re a sucker, if you don’t vote at all, you’re an asshole.” At least my father is voting, at least he is taking part in the process, even if I disagree with his vote. But this whole campaign dug deeper into my psyche and soul when my mother – the woman who nurtured me to be the compassionate, empathetic feminist that I am today – was unable to vote for Hillary, and my father – the man whose anger, racism and violent oppression ultimately fueled me to become a patriarchy-dismantling activist – was actively convincing others to vote for Trump.

Thus, to me, on both macro and micro levels, this election is white patriarchy at its worst. Donald Trump is white patriarchy at its worst. Beyond the fact that 35% of Trump’s Twitter followers also follow white supremacist Twitter accounts,  beyond the growing list of women who have claimed to be victims of sexual assault or misconduct at the tiny hands of Trump, beyond the “nasty woman” comment…a vote for Donald Trump is a vote to maintain the patriarchy. And I somehow feel that my bloodline is either completely oblivious to this or they just do not care. They see progress – we see maintenance of a world order driven by greed, narcissism and stupidity.

I am confident that we will make the right choice. I am confident that when I wake up tomorrow morning, Hillary Clinton will be the President-elect of the United States. I am confident that I will be celebrating alongside my American, Ugandan, English, German, Swedish, Italian, Dutch, Spanish and every-country-on-Earth friends tomorrow night. But I had to get all this out, because I’m fucking exhausted, and I know you are too.

It’s all about to be over. A massive, gaping wound has been left on American history, but we need to expose our greatest weaknesses in order to find ways to become Stronger Together. The election is almost over…the work has just begun.

Let’s roll up our sleeves and get to work.

I’m with her.

Feeding the Right Wolf

wolf-and-moon-cool-hd-wallpapers

“A grandfather is talking with his grandson and he says there are two wolves inside of us which are always at war with each other. One of them is a good wolf which represents things like kindness, bravery and love. The other is a bad wolf, which represents things like greed, hatred and fear. The grandson stops and thinks about it for a second then he looks up at his grandfather and says, “Grandfather, which one wins?”

The grandfather quietly replies, the one you feed.”

This parable was recently revealed to me by someone who cares deeply about the war that I, like millions of people all over the world, face every single day: the war between happiness and depression. Depression, anxiety and obsessive thoughts and behavior have been a regular fixture in my life for as long as I can remember. Sometimes these episodes last only a couple of days, sometimes weeks, sometimes months at a time. I force a sunny disposition in public spaces during these periods when I have to, but it is difficult to explain to someone who has not suffered from depression just how physically, mentally and emotionally draining it is to pretend you are someone you are not.

The parable of the two wolves feels particularly poignant to me in a chapter of my life where wolf symbolism and imagery have played an increasingly powerful role. It started with discovering my new favorite book Women Who Run With the Wolves, which has since informed my internal explorations as an openly effeminate male and emerging feminist; it continued when I began having dream visitations by a wolf that I interpreted to be my Spirit Animal (feel free to laugh…that’s another story for another post); and Wolf has now become a nickname bestowed upon me by the dear soul who shared with me this powerful story of the war between the “good wolf” and the “bad wolf.”

Much like the keen ears of the wolf are inundated with a never-ending cacophony of sound, my mind is incessantly flooded with more thoughts than I can ever hope to keep track of. I try to quiet my mind through meditation and yoga; I keep lists to keep myself on track, and I journal regularly to try to make sense of it all.

When I perceive my life as good, I experience something akin to ecstasy and marvel at the beauty of the very fabric of existence. I throw my head back and laugh at the sky, and in turn, my good wolf joins in to howl at the moon.

When a negative thought comes into my head, however, it is amplified just as much, if not more. Those close to me (particularly significant others) can testify to my ability to obsess over a word, an action, a thought. Throughout my life, this has bred paranoia, jealousy, feelings of hopelessness, and convincing myself of the notion that I would never get to enjoy a normal life like others do.

Ladies and gentlemen – meet my big, bad wolf.

I have read countless articles and testimonials on struggles with depression, peoples’ lists of tips for how to mitigate it, inspiring stories on how people overcame it, both with and without the use of anti-depressants, selective serotonin re-uptake inhibitors (SSRIs) and ongoing therapy. I spent a significant period of time on anti-depressants and did not like the way they affected my mind, because while that over-activity often associated with my “bad wolf” decreased, so did the cries of my good wolf. The energetic, inspiring and deeply loving me seemed to slip away. I removed SSRIs from my system and embarked on a long-overdue spiritual journey, finding some semblance of inner peace through the patterns in the stars, omens in the world around me, meditation, yoga practice, and backpacking across some of the most beautiful terrain of the United States. But through my periods of depression, I also medicate in other ways: I turn to vices, I become derailed, I lose focus.

I lose myself, so much so that I stop trying to find solace in the words of fellow depression-sufferers and opinions of psychiatric/spiritual experts alike.

Despite my chronic frustrations that none of these words and opinions can actually help me, an article in The Atlantic recently caught my eye, titled How To Build A Happier Brain. It takes a look at a new book by Dr. Rick Hanson of U.C. Berkeley (which I have just ordered), who makes the argument that “our brains are naturally wired to focus on the negative, which can make us feel stressed and unhappy even though there are a lot of positive things in our lives…Hanson’s book (a sort of self-help manual grounded in research on learning and brain structure) doesn’t suggest that we avoid dwelling on negative experiences altogether—that would be impossible. Instead, he advocates training our brains to appreciate positive experiences when we do have them, by taking the time to focus on them and install them in the brain.”

Essentially, Hanson holds that we are evolutionarily programmed to hard-wire negative experiences into our brains for means of survival, while hard-wiring positive experiences requires an active effort on our part. It is about “taking the extra 10, 20, 30 seconds to enable everyday experiences to convert to neural structure so that increasingly, you have these strengths with you wherever you go.”

This goes beyond the sort of ‘positive thinking’ that so many non-depressed individuals try to offer as advice to those of us who suffer from depression (thanks for the advice guys, but ‘looking on the bright side’ just doesn’t work for everyone!). Hanson differentiates between positive thinking and ‘taking in the good’ – a more active reflection on the balance between negative and positive in each experience, and appreciating the positive in relation to its negative counterpart.

This, to me, is the same concept as the parable told by the grandfather. All of life has its positive and negative parts – and while some people are simply better wired to be able to focus on the howls of the good wolf rather than the bitter cries of the bad wolf, some of us are, chemically speaking, just not as lucky.

I do what I can to focus on those ecstatic moments when my good wolf is in control. I try to internalize them. I close my eyes and take a deep, intentional breath and hold onto that feeling, and allow gratitude to wash over me like a cleansing wave and spread from my fingertips and my toes and my third eye out into the Universe that swirls around me. I can visualize that positive energy diffusing outward and making the world a better place. I smile, I laugh, I cry, I thank myself, I thank the Universe, I thank everyone.

I feed my good wolf while I can, because I know that soon, the bad wolf is going to get hungry…

I was recently chatting with a friend while in a very enlightened state of mind, telling her “I feel really great these past couple weeks, very inspired, very clear, very happy.” To which she replied, “are you sure that’s not just your brain in a ‘high mode’ and you’re going to switch back to a low mode soon?” It was a mildly hurtful statement, but a reasonable one and I could see where it came from. As I write this, my good wolf is in control, and has been since the last full moon (I’d prefer to measure my moods in moon cycles…it makes more sense to me and to the parable).

But how long will it last?

I hope that Hanson’s book, Hardwiring Happiness: The New Brain Science of Contentment, Calm, and Confidence, will offer some useful perspectives, and I’ll have to write a followup to this piece once I’ve read it. In the meantime, I wanted to write this post as a reminder to those who suffer from the same inner battle, the same competition between their good and bad wolves, that you are not alone in the fight.

Feeding the right wolf is up to each and every one of us. While it may take years of practice to learn to truly ‘take in the good’, we can start by surrounding ourselves with people that lift us up, inspire us, reflect the best and brightest sides of ourselves. We can allow our creativity to flow from us, whether through painting or writing or dancing our fucking asses off. We can focus on the feeling in our core when we laugh from deep within, and the feeling in our hearts when we cry hard enough to release whatever is weighing us down. We can dedicate our time to helping others and to making our corner of the world a better place to live in. We can savor every single bite of the meal on the table before us and we can look someone deep in the eye next time we say the words “Thank you.”

We can be the best versions of ourselves, and feed the best versions of ourselves. We all have that power, and none of us are alone.

Take a deep breath, close your eyes, and promise yourself that today, even if just for a moment, you will feed the right wolf.

“I want to feel alive”

I can always power through any task so long as there is good music in my ears. Lately, I have been on a massive liquid drum and bass kick at work (feel free to explore the genre through all the mixes I have been grooving to for the past three weeks here). It features beautiful melodies soaring at 150-180 beats per minute juxtaposed with the same airy vocals and inspirational lyrics you would get with any summer house or techno mix…just much faster, which keeps my fingers typing and my mind focused on the task at hand.

Sometimes the lyrics remain in the background, sometimes they stand out. Today, an otherwise unremarkable line jumped out at me: “I want to feel alive.”

Variations of this mantra are not uncommon. It can take the form of an exclamation after an exhilarating experience (I feel alive!). It can take the form of a compliment (I feel alive when I am around you). And here, it takes the form of a desire (I want to feel alive). The statement assumes either 1) the subject does not feel alive, but wishes to, or 2) the subject feels alive already, and would like to continue to do so. Either way, we can assume that feeling alive is a choice.

Why, I wonder, if we are all physically alive, do we not always feel that “alive” is a default state?

The idea of feeling alive has come to be construed as something distinct from the mere physical functioning of being alive, and connotes a state of existence perceived to be above and beyond basic survival. As someone who easily slips into states of depression and bouts of severe anxiety on a fairly regular basis, I personally spend countless hours contemplating what it is that makes me feel alive in an effort to maximize time spent engaging in activities, experiences and feelings that nurture a sense of life in its most glorified state. Whether it’s traveling to new places, hiking through the desert, finding my place in a community of caring people, watching a full moon rise, having a perspective altering conversation with a friend, falling in love, losing myself on a dance floor, seeing my favorite band live on stage, or learning that my writing has inspired someone, I am aware of what must transpire for me to declare “I feel alive!”

This idealization of specific mental, emotional or psychological states as a wholly transcendent state of being that we may call “feeling alive” makes perfect sense, and I am not contesting the use of the term, but that desire…the statement “I want to feel alive”…made me think about just how much of our time we spend engaging in experiences that fail to make us feel truly alive. Daily routines such as commuting to work, sitting at our desk, cooking breakfast, paying bills, shopping for detergent, or coordinating dinner plans with a friend – these are a part of our lives, and thus are no less a part of being alive than anything else we may do, in much the same way that when someone returns from vacation and says “back to reality,” they are not returning from a place that exists outside of the real world, but failing to recognize that the vacation was just a different aspect of their reality, as is that to which they may be returning.

Perhaps the trick is to try to inculcate the deep appreciation we have for those ‘alive’ moments into our daily routines. Sitting at our desk at work can remind us how lucky we are to have a job when millions cannot find work. Making lunch is crafting a meal that will nourish us for the rest of the day and keep our bodies functioning properly, and there is little in this world more spectacular than the ability of the human body to thrust us into the infinite possibilities of physical experience.

It is in these moments where we need to build a practice of saying “I feel alive” and remind ourselves of how blessed we are to be alive in that moment to sit at a desk, to make a sandwich, to drive to work, to pay a bill (all critiques of capitalism aside). Whether we feel it in our hearts or not, we are all alive, and that is a gift that will inevitably, one day, be taken away from us forever.

Alan Watts once said, “this is the real secret of life: to be completely engaged with what you are doing in the here and now. And instead of calling it work, realize it is play.” We are all here to play, we are all here to celebrate the power of life and the beauty in what we have been given.

Let’s not waste any more time wanting to feel alive, and instead, let’s just feel it. Here, and now.

Seeds of Change

Nestled away deep within the otherworldly green expanses of East Africa for the past few years has provided perspectives on change, growth and adaptation otherwise unknown to me throughout my life.

Growing up exploring the federally protected natural spaces of the western United States allowed me to develop a profound appreciation for the abundance of beauty with which Mother Nature permits us to engage. Here in Uganda, working as a part of the international development industry, I watch all around me as what we call development rapidly changes before our eyes, often at the expense of the natural world.

About a year ago, I wrote a piece that illustrated the deep connection I have forged with the wilderness of our Earth, and the immense power each of us can tap into through it. On the banks of the River Nile, in the gardens of my former home in Bujagali, I spent over a year in routine communion with what came to be regarded as my Spirit Tree. Through a series of events that corresponded with my own tumultuous life at the time, the papaya tree slowly fell, decayed, and disappeared. Nothing remains today.

Perhaps this is part of the reason I always feel so unsettled when I return to Bujagali Village. Weekend escapes there are often dominated by water sports and relaxation at the source of the Nile’s famous backpackers camps, interspersed with visitations to my families who continue to go about their daily lives along the red dirt roads I once trod upon in much the same way they did when I was a part of their community.

A visit to Bujagali this weekend brought with it a profound realization: this community is theirs, but it is no longer my own.

In much the same way I no longer consider Sacramento, California to be my home, even though it was my birthplace and the grounds for my upbringing, I finally feel after more than a year living in the bustling hills of Kampala that Bujagali is not my home. I feel a deep familial connection with the mothers, sisters, fathers and brothers that took me in as my own, and relish each moment I get to spend with them since the move, but it is a far cry from the sense of belonging I once felt there.

This weekend I learned of changes in the dynamics of the community over the last few months that sparked my realization that I am no longer as connected to the place as I once found myself. This revelation was paired with an overwhelming devastation that sent me on a deeply contemplative inward journey.

With our obsession with development, with change, with the need to grow and strive for something beyond our current realities, how do we maintain our roots in the places we come to call home?

Distraught with the feeling that I had somehow lost the essence of who I am in Uganda, that I by leaving for new job opportunities in Kampala I forfeited my membership in the warm embrace of the most remarkable community I have ever known, I embarked on a walk through the paths and gardens of Bujagali to reconnect. I visited families I had gone the past two months without seeing, I sat with them, held the newest babies, comforted the newly sick, and ate all the food that was generously brought before me. We laughed endlessly, I fumbled with my limited Lusoga, and I smiled as the warmth of the sun and the warmth of those I spent my day with inundated me with a deeply welcoming feeling I feared lost.

I ended my village walk in the place that perhaps meant more to me than any other – the garden behind my old home, my former sanctuary for meditation and reflection, and the former home of my Spirit Tree.

As I meandered through the groves of banana trees and past fields of lush green crops that would feed more mouths than I could count, I found myself at the exact location of the fallen Tree. In its place, to my amazement, I found a fully grown and blossoming avocado tree.

When I had first written about the fall of the papaya tree, I reflected on how once fallen, that tree would allow for new growth and new life, and hoped that with the personal events in my life that corresponded with it, I would find new growth and a new life as well. Placing my hand upon the firm bark of this new avocado tree, I felt pulsating within her a reminder that everything that had happened to me in this place, everything I had learned and lost and loved and lived, it was all a part of me, and it makes me everything that I am today.

With destruction, with decay, comes new life.

This avocado tree, I thought, will provide food for all the families that I have loved for all these years, and the energy of my Spirit Tree lives on in her roots, her leaves, her fruit, in everything she creates for the world around it.

We cannot stop change from happening. People grow, places transform, this country continues to develop infrastructure and ideas and with that development will come new possibilities for generations to come. What we lose along the way can only remind us of what we gain as a result. While Bujagali is no longer my home, it is a part of me, and always will be, and the man into which I transformed while there is the man that so many in Kampala love today.

I finished my walk out of the village to make my way back to Kampala reminded of how blessed I am to have been a part of the experiences I have been a part of in this country, and how grateful I am that those experiences have only just begun. And that gratitude is the one thing that will never, ever change.

Dear Universe…

I love you. And, I know that you love me too. Now I know that may sound silly or even obvious, but then again, you and I have gone some time without really talking, and I felt I should write to you and make a conscious step towards rebuilding our communication. You’ve tried speaking to me nearly every moment of every day my entire life…it took me many years to learn how to listen, and I recognize there are still times when I may fail to, and for that, I am sorry.

Some call it “being saved” or “finding God.” I just called it waking up.

Sometimes the human incarnations of your divinity become far too clouded with what I truly believe to be your antithesis: the human ego. Over the millennia, theologians and self-proclaimed prophets have boiled the great battle of existence down to two forces – good and evil, affixing personifications and names to each category. Of course, you and I both know there is no such thing as evil in this world – that such a wholly negative and destructive energy would not and could not exist, because what purpose would that serve in the grand scheme of this whole big, beautiful, infinite mess we call existence? Ego – the sense of the Self as an independent and disjointed unit floating through life in isolation – yields concepts of ‘rational’ self-interest that fuel actions and behaviors that attempt to elevate Self over the Other. Acts of evil are merely acts of ego taken to their extreme.

Ego is a human fallacy. It is not found elsewhere in the natural world. Ego drove greedy men in power to draft holy texts that they could forever use to oppress those they viewed as subordinate – namely women – under the unquestioned notion that a single male God created man in His image and then created women to accompany him in his journey through life (despite the laughable irony that women are the creators of life, as are the females of every non hermaphroditic species). It is that same ego that has led extremists – from the Crusades of the 11th Century, to the Spanish Inquisition of the 15th to the rise of the Islamic State in the 21st – to wreak havoc on innocent people in the name of their gods.

Maybe I’m just thinking about this because I was recently asked by a younger and equally inquisitive mind – one ostensibly not quite as jaded by the detrimental will of so many men in this world – whether I ascribe to any particular religion. The conversation was laced with clichés (“I’m not like, religious, I’m like, spiritual; I believe in like, energy maaaaaan; etc.), clichés which in my mind are always proclaimed in the voice of a California surfer turned Mohave desert mystic, or that of the sort of individual that declares their love for the Great Spirit and all things ‘new-age’ and then turns around to fuel blatantly capitalist paradigms by buying $200 yoga pants made in sweatshops in some forgotten corner of this world.

The question, however, served as a reminder that my loosely woven but nonetheless abundant system of belief is what pushes me to connect with the fabric of existence in a way that my angsty, goth-rock, “God”-loathing former self was never able to. I walked away from religiosity a lifetime ago, but have since bypassed atheism and agnosticism and found my place within the matter-of-fact connections that unify all of existence, and feel much more comfortable articulating my infinite love for you through that language. To each their own, right?

Ego, sadly, takes other more subtle forms. All too often, regardless of what faith one practices, we find ourselves losing our vision or losing our way, and we fail to communicate with our own concept of the Divine. For some, they stop praying or going to church. Many claim that their god has abandoned them. In times of despair or hardship, those that do not turn to their god for help will often claim they have been forgotten.

When my ego takes over, it’s as simple as just not listening anymore.

Depression, anxiety, fear, doubt, self-deprecation…these states are the work of the ego, and sometimes they just make me a poor listener. So here, now, today, I want to apologize, and let you know that I am back. I hear you. I am not here on this earth to watch the minutes melt away while dwelling on chemical imbalances, or lamenting the hyper-emotionality through which I experience life, or feeling sorry for myself. I am here to help make the world a better place for my future daughters to live and love, and to help build a world where my future sons will be proud to call themselves men.

In the words of Maharishi Mahesh Yogi, “life is a festival of disruption.” It is up to us to make sure we are joining in on the festivities and disrupting archaic mindsets and ego-fueled fear of one another to join the world together towards a common goal of coexistence, peace, and love.

I’m not saying I won’t lose my way again, we all do. Ego is a powerful thing, and the propensity for human beings to separate themselves from one another and not reach out, whether to help or to seek help. We all have unique abilities and gifts, ways in which you are living and loving through each and every one of us, and it is our responsibility in life – perhaps even our purpose – to discover and nurture those abilities and use them towards a greater good. Our efforts combined formulate the very higher power that for thousands upon thousands of years we have relegated to an unattainable, external state of being – whether taking the form of heaven, jannah, God, Allah, Nirvana, devas, saints, or Enlightenment.

Paradise exists right here on Earth. It is all around us. All we have to do is let go of our ego and listen.

As for me, I promise to dedicate more time to writing what I hear.

Stanley Kubrick on the Meaning of Life

Playboy:  If life is so purposeless, do you feel its worth living?

Kubrick:  Yes, for those who manage somehow to cope with our mortality. The very meaninglessness of life forces a man to create his own meaning. Children, of course, begin life with an untarnished sense of wonder, a capacity to experience total joy at something as simple as the greenness of a leaf; but as they grow older, the awareness of death and decay begins to impinge on their consciousness and subtly erode their joie de vivre (a keen enjoyment of living), their idealism — and their assumption of immortality.

As a child matures, he sees death and pain everywhere about him, and begins to lose faith in the ultimate goodness of man. But if he’s reasonably strong — and lucky — he can emerge from this twilight of the soul into a rebirth of life’s élan (enthusiastic and assured vigor and liveliness).

Both because of and in spite of his awareness of the meaninglessness of life, he can forge a fresh sense of purpose and affirmation. He may not recapture the same pure sense of wonder he was born with, but he can shape something far more enduring and sustaining.

The most terrifying fact about the universe is not that it is hostile but that it is indifferent; but if we can come to terms with this indifference and accept the challenges of life within the boundaries of death — however mutable man may be able to make them — our existence as a species can have genuine meaning and fulfillment.

However vast the darkness, we must supply our own light.

— Stanley Kubrick, interview with Playboy, Stanley Kubrick: Interviews